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MN Broadband Bill Would Connect Widely Scattered Residents


Thursday, March 24, 2022   

Thanks to state and federal commitments, Minnesota soon will unleash a large sum of funding to ensure more residents have broadband internet access, but industry groups warn of missing homes as work ramps up and hope a legislative plan addresses logistical issues.

Last year, Minnesota lawmakers approved spending $70 million dollars to expand the state's networks for high-speed internet. A House bill would create a specialized grant program to convince providers to extend cable lines to homes in far-flung areas.

Rep. Jordan Rasmusson, R-Fergus Falls, the bill's sponsor, said Minnesota needs to get the effort right.

"Policymakers and stakeholders need to examine every part of the funding and construction process and eliminate as many barriers to deployment as possible, ensuring no one is left behind," Rasmusson asserted.

Issues include some homes showing up on broadband maps as served, even though they are not connected, hurting their eligibility for assistance. Rasmusson added existing grant programs are too large to cover a handful of smaller properties. The $70 million comes from American Rescue Plan funding, on top of other federal dollars being made available to the state for broadband development.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, cleared a House committee this week and was sent to another panel in the chamber.

Anna Boroff, executive director of the Minnesota Cable Communications Association, said offering smaller grants for line extensions has worked in other states to help close gaps.

"Unless we provide the Office of Broadband with tools to identify and reach them, these locations will continue to wait for service or be forced to come up with the funds to pay a provider to serve them," Boroff pointed out.

Gaps in broadband access have received extra focus during the pandemic with households working remotely, along with distance learning. Advocates argued it is especially difficult for low-income families to thrive if they do not have reliable internet service. Roughly 240,000 homes around the state do not have high-speed internet.

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